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Rohit Brijnath
Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014

Sports

The moment when Spain's slip became a slide

The Straits Times | Rohit Brijnath | Tuesday, Jun 17, 2014

A hugely gifted and entertaining ball player, Barcelona's midfielder Andres Iniesta epitomises Spain’s swift, counter- attacking style.

SINGAPORE - He, the balding man who plays football like a physics professor with a superior understanding of time and space, designs a perfect pass. No one blinks, this is Spain's Andres Iniesta, who turns football into cerebral art.

It is the 42nd minute. Spain are 1-0.

The pass comes to David Silva. His nickname is Merlin. But even wizards can miss a trick. He has only the goalkeeper to beat and as a moment it resembles the 2010 World Cup final, 63rd minute, no score, and Arjen Robben with only goalkeeper Iker Casillas to beat.

Then, Robben's shot hits Casillas' trailing right foot and bounces wide. Now, Silva's chip ricochets off Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen's flailing hands and goes out.

At the 44th minute: A cross from the left and Robin van Persie does what we prefer strikers to do: He dives, legitimately, in the penalty area to score a goal so splendid it makes hair and a planet stand. As Vincent van Gogh, another Dutch artist, once said: "What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?"

It is 1-1. Two minutes, two chances, but only one goal.

Sophocles, the Greek writer of tragedies, once noted that "I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect". But in sport, retrospect, or a contemplation of the past, is fundamental.

Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach, led his team into the film room recently to watch a painful defeat. As critics we look back, too, sifting through games like sporting archaeologists, trying to identify moments when matches swung or empires teetered.

Perhaps for Spain it was here. In these two minutes.

Had Silva scored, it would be 2-0. For Spain, 2-0 could mean momentum and confidence. For the Dutch, 0-2 could be deflating and damaging. We don't know for sure. What we do know is that the threads on which victory hang are thin. Just one point. One putt. One chance.

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